Learning the ropes of online teaching
Mark Kiiru has always been a tech enthusiast. So when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Kenya and full online teaching came calling, he had no qualms about changing the mode of learning delivery but had a few reservations: which online platform would be used? How would connectivity challenges, especially for students, be resolved? And how would he keep the students engaged throughout a three hour session especially when one cannot see what the students are up to.
Paving way to online teaching
The semester was midway when students were sent home on the 16th of March following a government directive on closure of all learning institutions. With undergraduate programmes having been in exam period, Strathmore Institute, which houses the diploma and professional courses, was now faced with only a week to transition from on campus teaching to online learning. The Institute was the first department within the University to pave way to exclusive online teaching.
“It seemed a short time to have everything ready but in hindsight, if we hadn’t done it that way, we would have perhaps lost momentum. We began the online classes when the students were still in learning mode and this largely contributed to the successful completion of the semester.”
Mr. Kiiru, who has a background Management, facilitates the Diploma in Business Information Technology and Diploma in Business Management programmes. His first three-hour class went on smoothly except for a few teething problems. “I was not as familiar with Zoom but this was not a major obstacle; I soon had it under my wing. The greatest challenge was ensuring that the students were engaged and learning was taking place.”
He was soon to discover that there he had a larger attendance to his online classes; unregistered students ranged from family members conversing in the background, children playing, neighbours through their music to chicken clucking. “I hadn’t budgeted for background noise. However, the positive aspect of this was that students let me into a space where I would otherwise not have been invited to. I have learnt more about my students. I now know whose families are farmers, their countries of origin and those who may be struggling to make ends meet financially.”
Understanding the family set-up of his students has helped him reexamine his teaching methods in order to see them as more than just his students, each with a background that influences who they are. “I now ask myself: how can I go beyond content delivery to ensure that this student is at the same level as the next not withstanding their family background?”
Another a major learning curve for him was the use of nonverbal cues in communication. “With online teaching, you mainly have the voice to convey your message yet non-verbal cues account for a large part of communication. It’s as if you are speaking to blindfolded people. So I’ve learnt how to articulate my thoughts with little assistance from my body language which the students can easily follow and deduce in a class room setting.”
He points out that we live in an era where we have to be quick to adapt to changes after swiftly carrying out an environmental analysis of what is happening around us. “I’d opt for a blend in teaching. There are immense advantages to online teaching but I still prefer classroom teaching; it has a more personal touch to it.”
This article was written by Wambui Gachari.
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